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Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle A

The unifying theme for this occasion is obviously the Transfiguration of our Lord. The Exodus 24:12-18 and Psalm 2 texts were used in the composition of the Transfiguration accounts within the Synoptic Gospels. The writer of 2 Peter 1:16-21 probably used the Transfiguration account from one or more of the Synoptic Gospels as a literary source. These Series A selections, therefore, are the most fully integrated texts within the three-year series of texts for this occasion.

Psalm 2
In its setting within the Israelite Scriptures, Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm in which it is proclaimed that the Israelite king is the adopted son of the Lord God of Israel, to whom the Lord gives great powers. The Markan tradition, followed by the Matthean and the Lukan, included a short segment of Psalm 2 in the voice from heaven in the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism and of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Our Christian tradition can and may, of course, interpret this portion of Psalm 2 in this way and apply its words to Jesus. It is important, however, that we realize that Psalm 2 was originally intended to apply to a king in ancient Israel and that Jews today retain its original intention.

Exodus 24:12-18
It is obvious that Exodus 24:12-18 is included in this lectionary selection because of the references in Exodus 24 to Moses on a mountain, to six days, to the covering by the cloud, and to the giving of the Torah, or at least to the giving of the Decalogue. Each of these items is used in some way in the Transfiguration accounts in the Synoptic traditions. Each of these items provides an important clue to the intentions of the writers of the Synoptic traditions.

2 Peter 1:16-21
This text is a fascinating example of pseudonymous authorship. The author writes in the name of Peter, making extravagant claims to be Peter himself, present with our Lord Jesus Christ on the holy mountain of Transfiguration. Nevertheless, the basis of the author’s claim is “the prophetic word of Scripture,” which is not simply based on human experience and human interpretation of the significance of events, but is produced when persons moved by the Spirit of God speak from God. There is no better description than 2 Peter 1:16-21 anywhere else in our Scriptures of the nature and substance of the prophetic word. Certainly what we have in the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are excellent examples of inspired creativity that validate the words of Jesus in each of the Synoptic Gospels themselves.

Therefore, the author of 2 Peter depended on the authority of the prophetic word of Scripture in the Synoptic Transfiguration accounts, and at the same time was being moved by the Spirit of God to speak from God. We who proclaim the prophetic word of Scripture are basically in the same situation as was the pseudonymous author of 2 Peter. We too are moved by the Spirit of God to speak from God, and our own names also are not what is most important in our proclamation.

Matthew 17:1-9
This well-known account, which has only minor redactional modifications when compared to the earlier Mark 9:2-10 account, is considered by most Christians to be simply a written record of something that occurred just as it is recorded. Much more, however, than simply a written record of an event is involved here. If this were simply a written record of an important event during the public ministry of Jesus, why does John — who according to this viewpoint wrote the Gospel According to John — have no mention of this astonishing event, even though according to this account he was present for this most astonishing experience on a mountain while Jesus was talking with two men who had died many hundreds of years previously, while Mark, Matthew, and Luke, who are not said to have been present, include this account? We must do more, therefore, this coming weekend than merely tell this story of the account of the Transfiguration and ask our hearers to accept it as a marvelous and very unusual event. These Transfiguration accounts are extremely important proclamations about Jesus. They are literally packed full of meanings that we can only begin to perceive.

Let us consider, therefore, these questions: Who is Moses in biblical symbolism? Is not Moses the great personal symbol of the Torah? Who is Elijah in biblical symbolism? Is not Elijah the great personal symbol of the Prophetic Traditions? Do not Moses and Elijah together symbolize the Torah and the Prophetic traditions, the Sacred Scripture for most Jewish people and early followers of Jesus at the time of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels? We see, therefore, that the Transfiguration accounts proclaim that Jesus is in the same league with Moses and Elijah, who talk with him. The alert reader/hearer will recognize the intended proclamation that in these accounts Jesus and his words and work are being validated as on the same level of authority as the Sacred Scriptures — the Torah and the Prophetic Traditions — as they were then known. (The Writings had not been accepted as canonical. The Writings were accepted as canonical by the rabbis at Jamnia in 89-90 CE.)

Jesus as a person and Jesus as a symbol of faith are proclaimed as validated in these Transfiguration accounts by God by means of the impressive “voice from heaven,” God saying, “Listen to him!” We see also that after the cloud moved away the disciples are reported to have seen no one there except Jesus. Moses and Elijah (the personal symbols of the Torah and Prophetic Traditions) have faded away. Only Jesus is seen, and the voice of God from heaven has proclaimed Jesus to be God’s beloved Son whom his disciples are commanded to hear.

The people to whom these accounts are proclaimed are commanded by God to accept the authority of Jesus and of his words and actions that are now in written form, first in the Gospel According to Mark and later extended to the other Synoptic Gospels.

The climax of our Epiphany season proclamation each year is, therefore, that Jesus our Lord and Savior is God’s greatest manifestation of God’s self to us and to the world. Let us listen to him and to his words in written and in oral form in our lives!

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen